Ohio Beer Counsel
Information and Commentary on the Issues Facing Ohio's Craft Beer Community, Breweries and Distilleries - Brewed by the Craft Beer Lawyers of Bruns, Connell, Vollmar & Armstrong's Brewery & Distillery Practice Group
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Accidents happen in factories. Your brewery is a factory. Be prepared! OSHA regulations most likely apply to your craft brewery or distillery

Now that you have inventory, and the shelf space to stack empty cans ready for filling, you're probably going to need a forklift.  Simple enough, right?  It has four wheels and a steering wheel.  All you have to do is gas it up and go!  Don't forget that your brewery or distillery is not only a place where the magic of brewing happens, it is also a factory.  As with any industry, where safety is concerned, the federal government has rules.  Lots of rules.  In particular, OSHA (Occupational Safety Health Administration) regulations govern workplace health and safety for most employers.  Because breweries and distilleries are primarily manufacturing spaces with manufacturing equipment, there are specific rules that apply. 

DOES OSHA APPLY TO MY BREWERY?

Most likely yes.  OSHA requires safety rule compliance and record keeping.   If your company had ten (10) or fewer employees at all times during the last calendar year, you do not need to keep OSHA injury and illness records unless OSHA informs you in writing that you must keep those records. However, as required by § 1904.39, all employers covered by the OSH Act must report to OSHA any workplace incident that results in a fatality or the hospitalization of three or more employees.  Also, this does not mean your brewery is exempt from OSHA rule compliance. 

In fact, OSHA statistics have shown that craft breweries have seen a higher incidence of reported injuries than other breweries.  State and OSHA inspectors found 547 violations, including 250 serious ones, at craft breweries from 2003 through 2011, according to a Reuters' analysis of the data. Officials fined the small brewers an aggregate $220,000 for violations ranging from failing to enclose sprockets and chains to not ensuring machinery was disabled when an employee was inside. 

ONE OF THE MOST COMMON SAFETY CONCERNS – FORKLIFTS

OSHA governs the use and operation of forklifts and “powered industrial trucks” in the workplace.  In the brewery setting, especially where there is a tasting room, one of the challenges is in maintaining pedestrian safety. Beyond that, many workers can also be injured when (1) lift trucks are inadvertently driven off loading docks; (2) lifts fall between docks and an unsecured trailer; (3) they are struck by a lift truck; or (4) they fall while on elevated pallets and tines. It is a violation of Federal law for anyone UNDER 18 years of age to operate a forklift or for anyone OVER 18 years of age who is not properly trained and certified to do so.

Forklift accident are too common in breweries

Forklift accident are too common in breweries

Recently, two breweries (one craft, and one big brewer) experienced workplace accidents.  At Stone Brewery Company in San Diego, a worker was killed when the forklift he was operating overturned, pinning him underneath.  OSHA investigated and found at least one violation of California’s OSH Act.  More recently, at the MillerCoors brewery in Trenton, Ohio, a contractor was injured when a forklift backed into him.  OSHA is also investigating this incident but has not issued any findings.

WHAT SHOULD I DO AS A BREWER?

These recent incidents only highlight the point.  Making great beer is hard enough.  As breweries grow, the risk of workplace injury grows.  And, forklifts aren’t the only danger, just the most obvious. 

Training, good record-keeping, and planning are critical to navigate the complicated OSHA environment.  In 2011, brewers were almost 7x more likely to be inspected by OSHA than the national industry average.  Therefore, consider conducting a comprehensive safety audit.  Identify and correct hazards promptly.  Keep up to date with new and changing OSHA and state safety regulations.  Also, don’t forget to keep a close eye on contractors that come to your brewery.  If you need assistance or guidance in this area, don’t forget to consult your friendly Beer Counsel.

Cheers!

OBC